Thursday, July 20, 2017

"SILENCE" -- a short crime story

The main conceit of this story began as a science fiction idea.  When that ended up going nowhere, I shifted it over to a contemporary crime setting.  The first iteration of this clocked in at around 5,000 words, and when the editor of NEEDLE, Steve Weddle, came back with a "no," he stated that there were some great things in the story, but that it might benefit from being longer.  So, I nearly doubled it (to roughly 9,000 words), sent it back to NEEDLE, when submissions opened again, and had it published in the Winter, 2014-15 edition of the magazine.  Later in 2015, it was selected as an honorable mention for The Best American Mystery Stories, 2015.

I'm really proud of this story and have meant to share it here for a while, now.  Hopefully you'll appreciate it--enjoyment just doesn't feel like the proper word, here, considering the subject matter--and if you'd prefer a scan of its original publication, hit the LINK.


            by C.M. Beckett

Harry Dolan spied the dead body through his windshield.  Covered in a stained sheet – some bullshit metaphor that would end up in the local paper’s write-up.  Dolan slammed the car into park and got out, snapping on latex gloves as he stepped under the police tape. 
“What do we got?” 
Sam Henderson – short, balding, with a lazy eye that made the skells underestimate him – turned to greet Dolan.  “Didn’t realize the lieutenant let you out this late.” 
“Got a special dispensation to work past my bedtime, asshole,” Dolan said.  “Just fill me in.” 
“Female vic, shot three times in the chest.  No purse, no jewelry, no ID.  Robbery gone bad by the looks of it.” 
Dolan bent down and lifted the sheet.  The woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties – dark complexion, pretty face, utter tragedy.  He scanned the body, caught the bruising on her neck and a sharp pain stabbed the backs of his eyes; memory flashed; Dolan stuffed it back down and took a breath. 
“Quite a looker, ain’t she?” Henderson asked.  “Wouldn’ta minded stickin’ it to her while she was still talkin’.” 
Dolan stood up and walked over to Henderson, urged the shorter detective back with his bulk.  His voice was low, even:  “You don’t disrespect a woman can’t defend herself no more.  I’d prefer not to have to include that shit in my report.” 
Henderson snapped his heels together and gave a high salute.  “Jawohl, Herr Commandant!” 
Dolan turned away.  “Start canvassing.  I’ll take the lead, since you seem unable to treat this with any seriousness.” 
“Yes sir!”  Henderson gave a second salute, turned and slunk away. 
Two hours later, Dolan was back at his desk, on the phone with the coroner.  “Yeah, okay,” he said into the receiver.  “Thanks a lot, Brightman; you’re a peach.”  Dolan winced at the reply and hung up the phone.  He could feel the knot growing in the pit of his stomach.  This was gonna be a bad case. 
“So, whaddawegot, big man?” Henderson asked from the unused desk behind Dolan. 
The other detective swiveled his chair around.  “Victim’s a reporter with the Herald.  Marcía Vasquez.  And the gunshots were either a message or a cover-up.  Cause of death was asphyxiation caused by strangulation.” 
“On the bright side, she don’t have to wallow in a profession ain’t gonna be around in ten years,” Henderson said. 
Dolan glared at the detective, then turned and called across the room, “Hey, Jilly, get me a coffee, willya?” 
Jillian Tamaki looked up from her latest case file – double homicide, two pre-teen boys, a block up from her own apartment.  Half-Irish and half-Korean, Tamaki was all cop.  At only twenty-nine years old, she had more than acquitted herself in the six months since being promoted to detective.  She expected it was a combination of her age and heritage that rubbed Dolan the wrong way.  “I’m not your comfort woman, Dolan.  Get it yourself.  You could use the exercise.” 
“Give me a goddamn break,” Dolan said.  “You’re two feet from the damn thing.  Just grab me a mug.” 
Tamaki stared at Dolan, but he’d turned back to his own case file.  She got up and moved toward the coffee maker. 
“That feminist streak sure evaporates once we’re back in-house,” Henderson chuckled. 
Dolan was approaching fifty, but he was still quick.  Henderson had no time to get his feet off the desk before the larger detective had his collar and threw him to the ground. Dolan got two punches into the squat detective’s face before the rest of the night shift dragged him off. 
“I’m gonna sue your ass,” Henderson barked, as he stood and straightened his jacket.  “You’re a fuckin’ maniac.”  He wiped at his mouth, noticed blood on his knuckle, marched for the hall and the bathroom. 
“Dolan!”  Lieutenant Wallace’s voice silenced the squad.  “In my office.”
Fifteen minutes later, Dolan stepped out. 
“Coffee’s on your desk, Dolan.  Probably cold by now, though,” Tamaki called. 
“Shut up, ya damn slope.”  Dolan grabbed his hat and coat and swept out of the office. 


Dolan rapped on the weathered oak door of the modest brownstone, then pulled his collar up against the breeze and the possibility of being recognized.  He pulled out the business card again.  Chinese characters covered the front of the card (Dolan thought of them as Oriental).  The address, in English, was the only inscription on the back. 
The door opened and a short, Asian woman with the blackest hair Dolan had ever seen greeted him.  She wore a blue kimono with a light-colored sash, and her round face had a broad smile on it. 
“Greetings.  How may I help you?”  Her accent was thick, the words stilted as she struggled over them. 
“A friend recommended you,” Dolan said. 
“I sorry.  No understand,” the woman said. 
“I think you understand fine.”  Dolan pulled out his detective’s badge.  “I’m not here in an official capacity,” he said, “as long as you don’t give me the runaround.” 
The woman shook her head, her mouth puckered in a silent no as she stepped back into the darkened entry. 
“Good.”  Dolan pushed against the wooden door and stepped past the tiny woman.  “Now, let’s see what you got.” 
Lace curtains hung in every doorway, like some ancient harem.  The woman offered Dolan a seat in the front room.  He stood. 
She bowed and slipped through one of the curtains. 
Dolan barely had time to scan the room before she returned with three young ladies in tow.  Each wore a long dress with a high slit up one leg.  They were all beautiful, all Asian, and all unable to look Dolan in the eye. 
“We have special girls,” the woman said.  “Very special.” 
“That’s what I was told,” Dolan said. 
“We no want irritate guests, so we bring girls over who have tongue removed.  Very common in China, but no talk about.  Once happen, they no have chance at real life.  That why bring here.  Give them chance at real life.”  She looked up at him, her eyes sliding away behind that broad smile.  “You no here for talk, just sex, yes?” 
Dolan muttered an assent. 
“Which one you like?” the woman asked. 
They all looked the same to Dolan.  He walked over and took the closest one by the arm. 
“She take you to room.  You leave money on table after.  Here prices.”  The woman handed Dolan another business card – smaller than the other, and square.  On the front, in flowery script, was her name:  Madame Fāng.  On the back were two columns – thirty-minute increments on the left and a rising collection of numbers, from 125 to 750, on the right. 
“They all like rough.  Rougher, better,” Mrs. Fāng said, and she chuckled nervously. 
Dolan nodded and pointed for the girl to lead the way. 


The wooden stairs creaked as the detectives ascended to the third floor of Marcía Vasquez’s apartment building.  Dolan labored to catch his breath at the top, before taking a final drag off his cigarette. 
Tamaki watched him, hands on her hips.  “Why did the lieutenant stick me with you?” 
Dolan blew smoke in Tamaki’s direction, dropped the cancer stick and ground it beneath his heel, imagining his young partner in its place.  “Experience.  Role model.  Teach you somethin’.  Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”  He turned and headed toward the end of the hall.  “Ask me, I don’t know that I can teach you much.  You’d need the capacity ta learn for that.” 
“Not being a prick might go a long way to helping impart knowledge,” Tamaki said, pushing past him to knock on the door of 3B.  Dolan smiled. 
A young woman in her twenties, with short blond hair, a couple piercings in her nose and more in her ears, and a soft, round face opened the door to greet them.  She forced a smile.  “You’re the detectives?” she asked. 
“Yes,” Dolan said, producing his badge.  “Rachel Deering?” 
The woman nodded. 
“May we come in?” Tamaki asked. 
Rachel opened the door wider and stepped back. 
The apartment was small, a kitchen-slash-dining area led directly into the main room, which had a large window looking out at the brick edifice of the neighboring building.  Photos covered the walls; plants, potted and hanging, filled the room with the scent of the outdoors better than some plug-in thing; and the furniture was all modern and, as Dolan like to put it, skeletal.  What stood out most to Tamaki, though, was how clean the place was. 
Rachel directed the detectives to the couch – a thin, black frame with beige cushions tied down to it.  She sat in a matching rocker next to them. 
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Dolan said, leaning forward.  “It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother.” 
Tamaki looked up, saw the confusion in Rachel’s eyes, then turned to Dolan, who gave no indication he realized what he’d said.  She considered interjecting, but Dolan was already talking again, “We just want to ask you a few questions,” and the moment had passed.
“Can you tell us a bit about Ms. Vasquez?  What she was like.  Habits, comings and goings,” Dolan said.  “Anything that might help us find who did this to her.” 
“I don’t know,” Rachel said.  “She was real determined.  Inspiring almost.” 
“What do you mean?” Tamaki asked. 
“Marcía was always working,” Rachel said.  “Even if she didn’t have her laptop open, you could see she was still focused on her stories.  Like, she could be sitting there watching TV, and you might think she was into whatever was on, but if you looked closer, you could see she wasn’t even looking at what was on the screen.  I wish I had that drive.” 
“What do you do?” Dolan asked. 
“I’m a receptionist with Sithe Global.”  Rachel stood up quickly.  “Can I get you a drink or something?” 
“Thanks, no,” Tamaki said.  Dolan just shook his head. 
“Well, I need something.  Just a sec.”  Rachel walked back to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Evian from the fridge, then returned to the rocker.  “Sorry.” 
“Not a problem,” Dolan said.  “So, did Ms. Vasquez ever discuss her work?” 
“Not really.  She was, like, real secretive about that stuff.” 
“Secretive?” Tamaki asked. 
“You know,” Rachel said.  “I guess that’s not the best word.  She just, she never brought it up.  And the few times I asked, Marcía told me she didn’t want to bore me.  I don’t know, maybe that’s how she really felt.” 
“Could be,” Dolan said.  “I realize her job wasn’t exactly a banker’s, but did she keep regular hours, have any type of routine?” 
“She liked working at night,” Rachel said.  “Or maybe she just liked sleeping in.  Not that she could do that too much.”  Rachel tugged at a nail with her teeth, caught herself.  “I didn’t really see her that much.  My job’s pretty regular, nine-to-five and all that, so we didn’t cross paths a lot except late at night or on weekends.  But when she did take a night off, she never left without inviting me.  Marcía was real…” 
Rachel began to cry.  “Real good like that.” 
Dolan got up, rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “This is hard.  I know.  And it’s a pain in the ass there’s nothin’ we can do about it. 
“Just let it out.” 
Tamaki didn’t know what to think. 
Forty minutes later, the two detectives left, with little to go on.  Rachel had been unable to offer anything useful, and a search of Marcía’s room turned up nothing, not even a laptop or a thumb drive, which meant all her work was stored somewhere else. 
Or it had been taken by the murderer. 


Lieutenant Wallace looked a lot like Sam Elliott – big, wavy hair stuck in the eighties, bushy mustache, rugged but lean build, and eyes that seemed able to shoot right through you.  Dolan found it distracting.  Tamaki didn’t know who Elliott was. 
The lieutenant stood behind his desk.  A woman, thumbs jumping across the face of her phone, stood in the corner.  She looked to be in her twenties, with intense eyes, her dark hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.  She wore a skirt that hugged her hips, but came below the knee, with a matching button-up blazer.  This woman expected to be taken seriously.  Tamaki appreciated that. 
“Things are working out,” Wallace said, more a statement than a question. 
Neither replied. 
“Good.”  Wallace smiled, took his seat.  “So…”  He shuffled through some papers on his desk, then looked up.  “How’s the Vasquez case coming?” 
“Slow,” Dolan said. 
“That’s an erudite response.  Would you care to elaborate on this slowness?” 
“We got shit-all to go on,” Dolan said.  “Sir.” 
Wallace leaned back in his chair, scratched his chin.  “Sounds like every other murder case we’ve taken the last twenty years.” 
“Yes, sir,” Tamaki said.  “That is true.” 
“You telling me you’re not up to the job?” Wallace asked. 
Tamaki leaned forward.  “No, sir.” 
“Then I’m confused.” 
Tamaki glanced at the woman, looked back to Wallace.  “We just haven’t found the right witness--"  Dolan interrupted.  “What Tamaki is trying to say, Lieutenant, is that a lot of people are refusing to talk.” 
“Or don’t have anything to say,” Tamaki said. 
Dolan’s jaw clenched; he looked sidewise at his partner.  “Same thing.  Anyway, this is troubling on a number of levels.  Obviously.  Doesn’t mean we won’t crack the case.  Just gonna take more time.” 
“I put you two together because I thought you could enhance each other’s strengths,” Wallace said. 
“Yes, sir,” Tamaki said. 
“I’m not usually wrong about these things,” Wallace said.  “Don’t make me regret this decision.” 
“No, sir.”
“Okay,” Wallace said.  “Back to work.” 
The detectives stood up from their chairs and exited the office.  The woman remained. 
For the next few minutes, Tamaki watched through the glass as the lieutenant and the woman talked.  She couldn’t figure what it was all about – was that Wallace’s wife?  His daughter?  What was she tapping out on her phone? 
“Quit worryin’,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki looked at her partner, but his eyes were fixed on the file in front of him.  “About what?” she asked.
“That lady,” he said.  “Unless it’s pertinent to the case, drop it.” 
Tamaki leaned forward to argue, lost her train of thought as the lieutenant’s door banged open.  Wallace approached her and Dolan, with the woman pacing him, still tapping her phone.
“This is Renee Franco,” Wallace said.  “She works for the Times and is doing a piece on human trafficking.  Ms. Franco will be riding with you today.” 
Dolan swiveled his chair around.  “Why are you ditchin’ her with us?” 
The muscles in Wallace’s jaw flexed, and Tamaki could see the blood rise in his face.  “Because it’s your job,” he said.  “And because Bivens is scheduled for court today and Potvin and McIntyre are already out on another case.”  He turned to Franco.  “I apologize for the detective’s behavior, but we don’t let him out to play with others too often.  That’s probably my error.  If you have any trouble, do not hesitate to let me know.”  Wallace turned back to his detectives.  “And unless you have a worthwhile question, I’d suggest you keep it to yourself.  Am I clear?” 
Dolan grunted and returned to the file on his desk.  Wallace marched back to his office, and Franco took a seat at Tamaki’s desk. 
“So.  Where’d you want us to taxi you?” Dolan asked. 
Franco paused.  “Well,” she said.  “The focus of the piece is human trafficking, specifically the rise in Asian women being brought to America in this manner.  A topic this big, my editor’s envisioning a series of articles.  But I don’t want to take you from any pressing business.  I’m just here to observe, capture your daily routine, and if I can question you about my focus during any down time, that works for me.  So, I guess wherever you want to start.” 
“Docks are always a good place to hit first,” Dolan said, and stood up from his chair.  Tamaki and Franco followed.

A half hour later, Dolan pulled the car in front of an old children’s park, the rusted skeletons of play equipment leaning raggedly behind a chain link fence that had long ago succumbed to age.  Franco and Tamaki both wondered about the wisdom of a playground so near the docks, so far away from anything resembling a residential area.  Dolan had only ever accepted the anomaly. 
The three stepped out of the car.  Dolan lit a cigarette while the women scanned the area – weary trees sagged against a hazy sky as the black water lapped against the shore, a succession of warehouses, square behemoths with despondent paint scarred by streaks of rust, trailed off toward the deeper end of the harbor where large container ships sat in the water.  He waited a moment, took a long drag off the cancer stick, then began walking.  “Come on.” 
Soon, they were rounding a giant pylon – one of many – that supported the six-lane bridge connecting the city’s business district with its older, residential area.  “They don’t make the best witnesses, for official purposes,” Dolan said.  “But if you’re lookin’ for information from the street, someone here’ll have what ya need.” 
Franco’s attention turned from the overwhelming architecture rising above them to the gathering of human detritus now in front of her.  People – all kinds, all colors, with eyes hollow and suspicious, all hope extinguished from their faces – dotted the landscape.  Some sat in front of makeshift tents, others just lay on the hard ground beneath a couple sheets of cardboard.  She felt her skin prickle, unsure if it was a result of guilt or sympathy or disgust. 
“’Course, you might consider doin’ a piece on them, if it weren’t something people’d rather ignore,” Dolan said.  Tamaki’s ears burned, as much at this hard truth as the derision in her partner’s voice.  “Wait here,” he said, and waded into the crowd. 
The two women watched as Dolan moved from body to body, his demeanor almost affectionate.  Most wouldn’t look at the detective, unable or unwilling to match his gaze, and a few tried to hit him, attacks easily swept aside by the large man.  Finally, one of them stood up, his head nodding like a bobble-head doll.  Dolan slipped him a couple of bills, and the two walked back toward Tamaki and Franco. 
“This is Jimmy Two-Feet,” he said to Franco.  “He’s seen some Asians comin’ in.  That’s what you were lookin’ for, right?” 
“Yes,” Franco said. 
“Well,” Dolan said.  “Get yer notepad out and start askin’ questions.” 
Tamaki saw the spark in Franco’s eyes as she nodded and moved over to Jimmy.  They sat on a huge block of concrete lodged in the ground nearby.  “Keep an eye on ‘em,” Dolan said, from behind Tamaki.  “Pay attention, make a note of anything we might be able to use. I got someone to find.”  And he walked off.

Most of an hour passed before Dolan resurfaced.  “You get anything we can use?” he called, from the edge of the homeless camp. 
Tamaki, seated on the hood of the car, shook her head “no.” 
“Goddammit.”  Dolan pulled out a cigarette and lit it, tugged on it a few times, then spat out a cloud of smoke.  “What the hell you been doin’?  Enjoyin’ the view?” 
Tamaki slid off the hood.  “Didn’t find the guy you went looking for, did you?” 
“Fuck off.”  Dolan took another haul off his cigarette. 
Tamaki ripped it from his mouth, threw it in the dirt.  “No.  You fuck off.  Just because you’re a sour old fuck who didn’t get what he came down here for doesn’t mean you get to take it out on me.” 
Dolan looked down at the smoldering cigarette, then past Tamaki to the reporter, who was standing on the opposite side of the car, trying hard to look like she wasn’t listening.  Dolan cursed under his breath.  “What did you get?” he asked.
Tension slipped from Tamaki’s shoulders, but her face remained stern.  She pointed a thumb toward Franco.  “She seemed to get a lot from that guy, but I couldn’t follow half what he said, which doesn’t take into account how many times she had to pull him back into their conversation.” 
Dolan nodded.  “Sounds like Jimmy.” 
“He apparently confirmed that women have been coming through the docks.  A lot of Asian, but dark girls too.” 
Dolan looked across the harbor, then bent down to retrieve his cigarette. 
“Also.  You ever heard of Jedna?” Tamaki asked. 
The ridges stood out on Dolan’s brow.  “That some kinda computer bullshit or somethin’?” 
“It’s a person,” Franco said.  She walked toward the detectives.  “The one trafficking these girls from Asia.” 
“What the hell kinda name is that?” Dolan asked. 
“Slavic,” Franco said. 
“Don’t recognize it.”  Dolan turned to Tamaki.  “But make sure you write it down, and note Jimmy on it too.”  He walked toward the car.  “I’m gonna drop you two back at the station.  You can grab a car and do a re-canvas at the apartment.  Or go do woman stuff, if that floats yer boat.” 
“Where are you going?” Tamaki asked. 
“Got somethin’ pressing to take care of,” Dolan said, without turning. 


Dolan had her bent over the side of the bed, slamming into her as hard as he could. 
“Come on,” he grunted, their slapping bodies echoing through the small room.  “You like that big dick, don’t you?  Tell me you like it.” 
She was one of Mrs. Fāng’s newer girls and took the vow of silence too seriously for Dolan’s tastes. 
“If you want me to cum, you better scream like the other girls.”  He took her wrists in one hand and pressed her face into the mattress with the other. 
“Come on!  Scream!”  Dolan pistoned faster, his breaths ragged as sweat dripped into his eyes. 
And she began to moan – long aching moans that brought a smile to Dolan’s face.  He came violently inside the young Asian, tears staining her cheeks as she lusted for air. 
Five minutes later Dolan stepped into the hall.  Shifting through the lace curtains, he heard the accented trill of Mrs. Fāng behind him. 
“You have good night, yes?” 
Dolan turned and bowed.  “Yes, very good,” he said.  “I left the money on the nightstand, like always.” 
“Oh yes.  I have here,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “You very good to us, Mr. Dolan.  Very good.  That why we wish give you discount.”  
“I don’t need that,” he said. 
“No.  Please, take money.”  Mrs. Fāng handed him one of the Franklins. 
“Are you sure?” 
Mrs. Fāng smiled and nodded. 
“All right,” Dolan said and pocketed the bill.  “I’ll see you soon.” 
“Very soon,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “We hope very soon.” 


Detective Tamaki knocked on the door of apartment 3H.  It was the last apartment on the floor – so far, no one had answered their door, even when the sounds of a television or children screeching could be heard within – and she hardly waited before looking at Franco and nodding for the stairs. 
They’d barely taken a step when the door opened behind them.  The women turned back to the door.  An old woman with silver hair blooming across her head and a sparkle in her eyes greeted them.  “Hello,” she said, her voice rattling a bit. 
“Ma’am.  I’m Detective Tamaki.”  She showed the woman her badge.  “And this is Renee Franco, who works for the Times.  We were curious if you knew Marcía Vasquez?  She lived down the hall from you.” 
“Oh,” the woman said.  “The Mexican girl.  I didn’t know her name.  But I guess she was nice enough.”  The woman leaned forward, as if imparting some secret knowledge.  “You know.” 
“I’m not sure I do,” Tamaki said, her voice cold. 
“She was different.  Not like the rest of them,” the old woman said.  “She would help me with my groceries.  And she always smiled when I saw her.” 
Tamaki could only nod. 
“She liked to stay out all hours of the night.  A young girl like that, she must have been a dancer somewhere or looking for a man who would take care of her.  I never did see her bring one home, though.  I think maybe she was a lesbian.”  The woman smiled broadly.  “Not that I’m one to pry.  I just feel it’s best to know what’s going on around you.  To keep safe.” 
“Right,” Tamaki said. 
“Did you feel unsafe here?” Franco asked.  Tamaki shot her a look, but the reporter ignored it. 
“Every day,” the old woman said.  “But I haven’t lived anywhere else since I was a child.  So what else can I do?” 
“What is it you fear the most?” Franco asked. 
“The gangs,” the old woman said.  “Punks with guns running around shooting up the neighborhood, raping old women so they can take their life savings.  It’s all those immigrants we let in.  Just look around.  The graffiti all over the place – it’s code for what they want to do.  All foreign signs and letters, so we don’t know what they’re planning.” 
Tamaki leaned forward.  “Could we get back to Ms. Vasquez?” she asked.  “You said you didn’t see her bring home any men, but did you ever see her with anyone?” 
“Yes,” the woman said.  “Sometimes, when I couldn’t sleep and I was up getting some warm milk, I would hear her coming home and look out to check on her.  I saw her with an Asian girl a few times.  I don’t know if it was always the same one or not, but she was young like her, and pretty.  I figured it might be someone from her work.” 
“Do you know if they were Chinese or Korean or another nationality?” Tamaki asked. 
“Please, dear,” the woman said, “you all look the same to me.” 
Tamaki felt her jaw clench.  She took a slow breath and allowed Franco to interject:  “Can you try a little harder?  Think about the women you saw with her.  Did they have different body types, different hair, anything that might signal whether this was a regular friend or maybe something more?” 
“You mean like an orgy?” the woman asked. 
“No,” Tamaki snapped, immediately regretting the loss of composure. 
The woman wrapped her nightcoat more closely around her shoulders.  “I don’t know,” she said softly.  “Like I said, I don’t like to stick my nose into other people’s business.  I’m just looking out for myself.” 
“Right,” Tamaki said.  “Is there anything else you can tell us about her?” 
“No.  I don’t think so,” the woman said. 
“Okay,” Tamaki said. 
“Thank you for your time.”  Franco shook the woman’s hand, then passed her a business card.  “If you remember anything else, please don’t hesitate to call me.” 
“I will,” the woman said. 
Tamaki and Franco turned for the stairs.  “Is she in some kind of trouble?” the woman asked.  “Something happen at the club where she works?” 
“No,” Tamaki said over her shoulder.  “Nothing like that.”  And they left.


Renee Franco rode along with the detectives for three more days.  Dolan couldn’t tell what she gained from the exercise, and he was not happy about what little they progress they made in that time.  Just proved his point that civilians interfering with police work, even when ostensibly staying out of the way, always fucked things up, and it put him in a pissy mood. 
A mood that was exacerbated when, not forty minutes after seeing Franco off, he and Tamaki caught a gang-related triple homicide (one victim the son of a state politician) that bumped Marcía Vasquez off the priority list.   


Dolan banged on Mrs. Fāng’s door as rain pelted down.  He cursed the city for not including awnings with the brownstones when they’d been built and pulled his hat down a little tighter. 
When the door opened, he didn’t wait, barreled through into the dry entryway. 
“Ah, Mr. Dolan.  You back sooner than normal,” Mrs. Fāng said. 
Dolan shook the water from his coat.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I know.” 
“We happy you here, but I afraid no girls available right now,” she said. 
“I can wait,” Dolan said and pulled a Budweiser from his jacket pocket. 
“No,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “They all booked up for day.” 
Dolan drained half the beer, then glared at the woman.  “What does that mean?” 
“Girls go to special party.  No one left for house.  Bad day today.  I so sorry.”  Mrs. Fāng bowed as she said this.  “Wish to help, but there just no way.” 
“I don’t believe this shit.”  Dolan stared down at the woman for a long moment, then walked past her into the sitting room. 
“Mr. Dolan.  Please, Mr. Dolan,” she called, heels clicking on the hardwood floor as she tried to catch him.  “I very sorry, but nothing can do.”  She grabbed his arm, and Dolan was surprised by the strength in her grip.  “Make up to you,” she said.  “You come back when girls not busy and we give you free fun.  How that?” 
“There’s no one here you can sneak me in with?” he asked. 
“Book all full today.  I tell you,” she said, as she released her grip. 
Dolan took another haul off the beer, cursed under his breath – “fuck” – then fell onto the couch. 
“You need drink?  Something to eat?” Mrs. Fāng asked. 
Dolan raised his Bud.  “Nope.  Got all I need right here.”  Finished the beer and chucked it across the room. 
Mrs. Fāng opened her mouth to say something, but the large detective gave her little opportunity as he stormed out of the brownstone, a string of profanities trailing in his wake.


Dolan scanned the front page of the Times.  The headline read:  HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN OUR OWN BACK YARD.  He knew the byline.  Renee Franco.  His eyes flitted to the top of the fold, and the date.  June seventeenth. 
“God.  Dammit.”  He crushed the paper and threw it into the wastebasket next to his desk. 
“Mets lose again?” Tamaki asked. 
“Two fucking months,” Dolan spat.  “Two months that girl’s been dead, and we haven’t done shit for her.” 
Dolan slammed open the bottom drawer of his desk and tossed over the case file from the top of the pile.  “That.” 
Tamaki looked at the name – Vasquez, Marcía – then opened it.  ‘April 5’ was written in the top right corner of the form, scrawl she recognized as Dolan’s.  She skimmed the file, already familiar with it but unsure how to close the folder without sending her partner into a bigger rage.  Tamaki allowed a minute to pass, then looked up.  “I don’t follow.” 
Dolan shut his eyes, rubbed at his temples.  “Girl deserved better,” he mumbled. 
“A lot of people do,” Tamaki said. 
Dolan felt a rawness in the back of his throat.  “We’re working this today.” 
“What about the Hammond case?” Tamaki asked. 
“We been bangin’ our heads against that one for days.  Nothin’ll shake loose when you’re clenchin’ so tight to it,” Dolan said.  “You need a new perspective.” 
“You aren’t getting Zen on me?” Tamaki asked. 
“Don’t act like a stupid rookie.” 
Tamaki bit her lip, sat back in her chair. 
“We haven’t been back to the mother’s, have we?” Dolan asked. 
Tamaki shook her head. 
“All right.  You grab a car.  Speak with the mother again; see if you can get a look around this time.  Maybe she left somethin’ there.” 
“You coming with?”
“I got other things need lookin’ after,” Dolan said. 
“What I thought,” Tamaki said.  “Stick me with the three-hour round trip, while you hit the donut shop.” 
Dolan glared at her.  Tamaki refused to look away.  “Lieutenant says I gotta do this?” she asked. 
“Me tellin’ you is the same thing,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki stood up.  “When I get back, maybe you can illuminate me to the finer points of this exercise.” 
“It’s called doing your job,” Dolan said. 
Tamaki gave him the finger as she marched out the door.


The sky was heavy with clouds, dull gray stretching in all directions.  Tamaki could feel its weight pressing on her shoulders as she approached the Vasquez home – a small, ranch-style that mirrored the rest of the block, with yellow siding and black shutters, and a poor attempt at a garden on either side of the concrete steps leading to the front door.  Tamaki knocked twice, then turned and watched three kids – two boys and a girl – weave and hop along the rutted sidewalk on skateboards, and the thought of losing a daughter scraped at her heart with a surprising urgency. 
The detective jumped when the door opened.  She turned, forced a smile.  “I don’t know if you remember me…”  She didn’t get to finish her statement.  “I do,” Mrs. Vasquez said.  “You’re the quiet detective.” 
“Yes,” Tamaki said.  “May I come in?” 
Shorter than Tamaki, Mrs. Vasquez had skin dark and smooth, like a Caribbean beach, with hair as black as night.  She was petite and could easily be mistaken for a woman far younger than her fifty years.  Until one looked more closely – at eyes carved deep by sorrow.  A long sigh escaped the woman, and she stepped aside. 
It was dark inside, blinds drawn on all the windows, and the walls were bare, lacking even family photos, which struck Tamaki as sad.  An old couch, brown and orange plaid like one her parents had owned, sat against a low wall separating the front room from the kitchen.  A coffee table, scarred and stained, centered the room, stacks of celebrity magazines sliding across its surface.  The flat-screen TV was turned to Judge Judy, the volume affording anyone in the home opportunity to listen in.  Through the arch, the detective noticed a pile of dishes in the sink, while boxes of crackers and cereals were scattered across the counter like a devastated cityscape.  The ache of loss permeated the entire home, and Tamaki wanted to leave before she’d even begun. 
Mrs. Vasquez pushed past the detective.  “I was just making tea,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.  “Would you like some?”
“No, thank you,” Tamaki said. 
Mrs. Vasquez shrugged, lifted the teapot from the stove, poured steaming water into a large mug, dunked a tea bag four times, then pulled a vodka bottle from the refrigerator and filled the mug to its brim.  She blew across it and bent for a tentative sip, then added a bit more vodka and returned the bottle to the fridge.  Tamaki watched her walk back into the front room and sit amid the sprouting threads of the old couch.  “What do you want?” she asked.
“I was hoping I might look around, see if your daughter left anything behind that could help us with our investigation,” Tamaki said. 
“You know she moved out almost ten years ago,” Mrs. Vasquez said. 
“Yes, ma’am.  But she did visit for extended periods, to get work done?  Did she keep a room here?” 
Mrs. Vasquez stared hard at the detective.  “You won’t find who did this.” 
The silence was painful, but Tamaki knew any response would just increase the tension.  So she waited. 
Mrs. Vasquez took another sip of her tea.  “It’s the room at the end of the hall.” 
Tamaki thanked her and moved through the house.  The short hallway was even darker than the front room, all doors closed against prying eyes.  She stopped at Marcía’s room and pressed her hand against the thin wood of the door, counted to five. 
The room had not been touched in years – shelves filled with stuffed animals organized by size (biggest in back, smaller ones in their laps), a desk with only a boxed set of the ‘Green Gables’ books on one corner and a lamp at the other, the comforter, pink and white, pulled tight on the bed, photos and posters covering as much of the walls as possible, everything dusted so that surfaces shined.  The rest of the house might exhibit its languishment, but Mrs. Vasquez refused to allow the neglect to enter her daughter’s room.  A chill ran up Tamaki’s back.  She hesitated, then entered and closed the door behind her.  
There was little to discover.  Mementos from Marcía’s childhood.  A small basket of used cosmetics.  A bookshelf full of titles Tamaki recognized from her own youth.  Discarded notebooks of poetry.  The sum of a life that was missing a vital piece.  There was nothing from her time as a journalist.  No clippings.  No scribbled notes or thumb drives.  No indication of the profession she had pursued for almost a decade. 
Tamaki reached the desk, which was squeezed between the bed and the closet.  She pulled out a drawer, discovered a wireless keyboard there.  Kneeling down, she found an orphaned cable wire running in from the outer wall.  But there was no computer.  Which wasn’t necessarily strange.  It was possible Marcía had traveled with a tablet.  But it verified that she had most likely worked from here. 
Tamaki moved to the closet.  Buried in a back corner – in the one shoebox of twenty that did not hold shoes – were the notebooks she’d expected to find, along with a stack of business cards.  The notebooks were full of mostly indecipherable scratchings.  The few words Tamaki could read made little sense lacking proper context.  The cards were familiar – lawyers, academics, businesses from the city and surrounding area.  But there were a handful she didn’t recognize.  These she put on top. 
The rest of her search turned up nothing.  Ten minutes later, Tamaki stepped out to the front room.  Mrs. Vasquez was still watching Judge Judy, sipping at a refreshed mug of tea.  She didn’t look at Tamaki as she spoke.  “Don’t expect there was much you could find to help.” 
“No,” Tamaki said.  “But there was this box in her closet.”  She held it out to Mrs. Vasquez.  “Looks like notes from her work and some random business cards.  I think it could prove fruitful.” 
The woman turned and looked at Tamaki, then slipped back to the TV.  “I don’t want it,” she said, her voice distant. 
“Okay,” Tamaki said. 
A pause.  “I’ll just let myself out.” 
“Yeah,” Mrs. Vasquez said.  “You do that.” 


Two large coffees and too many blocks later, Dolan spied his C.I., Robbie Willis, hangin’ where he shouldn’ta been – deep in conversation with a handful of known felons.  Not that it was illegal for them to congregate.  It was just frowned upon by the local constabulary, in a sometimes-forceful manner. 
When Willis caught Dolan’s eye, the detective could see it in his face; he knew he was busted, and he was not feelin’ it that day.  The others turned to watch as Dolan approached.  None of them made a move to bolt.  Dolan appreciated that.  He also enjoyed watching Willis get twitchy. 
“You know there’s a warrant out, don’tcha?” Dolan asked, looking directly at Willis.  One of the toughs, went by the name of Rhino on the street, moved into his path, sneered down at the old, overweight detective from nearly a foot above his head.  Dolan glared up at Rhino.  “I’ve had a shit day.  And it ain’t even lunch,” he said. 
“What chu want the man for?” Rhino asked. 
“His business,” Dolan said.  “You want me announcing your shit when it comes down?  Cuz most of it is weak-ass.” 
“Don’t be disrespectin’, old man.” 
Dolan raised his arms, palms out.  “You’re right, you’re right.  I’m an ass,” and a hand darted out, bent back Rhino’s index finger, sent the behemoth to his knees before anyone could react.  Dolan stepped closer, gaining more leverage, and stared down at the thug.  “Now.  I would like to do my job without any more interest from your gang.  Is that acceptable?” 
“You askin’ for trouble,” Rhino said, his words labored. 
“Been doin’ that over twenty years,” Dolan said.  “And I’m still here.  So, do I need to call in back up and throw all you shits into cells for the night?  Or is Willis comin’ with me for questioning, after which he can be home in time for dinner?”  Rhino motioned with his head toward Willis.  “Take him.  This time.” 
Dolan let go of Rhino’s finger and took a step back. 
The large man stood up, rubbing at his hand.  “But next time, you better bring some more guys, or you gonna end up in a lot o’ pain.” 
“Fair enough,” Dolan said.  He reached out to Willis.  “Come on.  Quicker we go, quicker this gets done.” 
Ten minutes later they had crossed the Sawyer Bridge and parked beneath it.  Dolan sat on the hood of the car, watching the C.I. chuck rocks into the black water.  He was most interested in the shock of white on the man’s feet – new Air Force Ones that contrasted sharply with the rest of his attire.  Dolan took a sip of coffee.  “Hey,” he called.  Willis turned, arm mid-throw.  “You gonna waste my time or am I gaining somethin’ from this encounter?” 
Willis let the rock drop into the soft mud and shuffled toward the detective. 
“Nice kicks,” Dolan said. 
Willis stopped and looked down.  “No shit.”  He pulled up a pant leg, ragged and torn, to better view the sneakers.  “Got a old lady takin’ care o’ me now.  Sweet little sugar mama.  She cain’t get enough.” 
“Seems likely,” Dolan snorted.  “So.  Whaddayagot?” 
“About what?” Willis asked. 
Dolan swung, hit Willis’s face hard and sent the C.I. back a couple steps.  “What the hell?!” 
“Don’t bullshit me.”  Dolan was breathing heavy, but his voice was even.  “You said you’d look deeper.  But you never got back in touch.  I know you got info.” 
Willis rubbed at his cheek.  “I don’t know what the hell you’re barkin’ about, man.” 
Dolan punched him again.  Harder. 
“Fuuuuuuck.”  Willis was on one knee.  He pressed his palm against the throbbing at his temple. 
“The girl I was askin’ about a couple months back.  Vasquez.  Reporter.  Strangled then shot.  What’s the word on the street?”  There musta been somethin’.”  Dolan leaned back on the car, sipped at his coffee. 
“Goddammit!   Why you always gotta play that mystery man shit?”  Willis stood up, hand still against the side of his head. 
“It amuses me.” 
Willis glared at Dolan.  “Good ta know where I stand,” he said. 
“Could be standing behind bars,” Dolan said.  “Might consider that before you get wise.” 
“A’ight, a’ight.”  Willis looked at his hand.  No blood. 
“So.  Give.”  Dolan set down his coffee as he stood away from the car.  Willis took a few steps back, held up his hands in defeat.  “Yah.  Okay.  What I got, what I got.”  He scanned the area, his eyes running over a dead rat decomposing in the strangled grass before returning his gaze to the detective.  “Somethin’ about scratchin’ their ass.  Or somethin’.  I don’t know.”  He eyed Dolan. 
“Scratchin’ their ass?  What the hell is that?”  Dolan took another step forward. 
Willis’s eyes were wide.  “It’s what I got!”  He looked around for anything to use as a weapon, but there was nothing.  His mind raced, and he wished he hadn’t blown the last of his smack on that skank from the bar.  “Itchy bun.  Itchy bun,” he cried.  “I think it’s foreign, but that’s what I got.” 
“What does it mean?” Dolan asked. 
“Name o’ the new man in charge,” Willis said.  “Been consolidatin’ the dockwork for months.  Heard he’s the one put the hit out on that reporter.” 
Willis’s words were a rapid staccato:  “S’what I tol’ ya before, too close with a story an’ all that shit, y’know?”  He was scared.  Or approximating a good facsimile. 
But Dolan’s sympathies lay elsewhere.  He moved in close on the C.I.  “Where are they set up?” 
“Movin’, always movin’,” Willis said.  “Can’t say where they be next.” 
“But you can say where they been most recent,” Dolan said. 
Willis looked up at the detective.  “Yeah,” he breathed.  “Warehouse ninety-four.  Last I heard, that was where they was doin’ business.” 
Willis nodded. 
“You put this down on paper for me?”  Dolan asked.
“Then I get my cash?” 
“Then you get your cash.” 
Willis nodded.  Dolan went to get a legal pad. 


Tamaki was reading one of Vasquez’s notebooks when Dolan came marching into the office.  She stood up, grabbed the one business card she couldn’t place – all white with Asian symbols in one corner, the word ‘Ichiban’ dead center, and no other distinguishing marks – from the shoebox and held it out to her partner.  “Recognize this?” 
“No time,” Dolan said, waving her off.  “We hafta get over to Judge Menken and get a warrant before he goes home for the day.” 
Dolan looked at Tamaki.  “My C.I. gave me somethin’.  But we gotta act quick, before they’re gone.” 
“Who?”  Tamaki dropped the card and followed Dolan.  He took four long strides, reached the lieutenant’s office, and slammed through the door without knocking. 
“What the hell?” 
“Sorry, Loo,” Dolan said.  “But we gotta act fast on this.  I gotta tip says we need to hit warehouse ninety-four, down at the docks.  The ones killed that reporter been holed up there, but they won’t be much longer.” 
“How does this pertain to the Hammond case?” Wallace asked. 
“We put it aside.  To readjust our heads,” Dolan said. 
“So, this is the Vasquez case,” Wallace said. 
“Yeah.  But there’s more to it than that.  Asian girls brought in against their will to work the sex clubs and brothels – it’s related to that too.  We need a TAC team and a warrant and we need it for tonight.” 
Tamaki had never seen Dolan so animated.  She didn’t know what to make of it. 
“Okay,” Wallace said.  “I’ll see what I can pull together.” 
“Right,” Dolan said, turning for the door. 
“But you better be right about this.” 
“Don’t worry, Loo.” 

Water slapped against the boats, shunting their hulls into one another, an oddly rhythmic beat that Tamaki found soothing as they knelt in the shadows scanning the warehouse.  They had been a couple hours scrunched down in the dark, the only sound the startled cry of a gull.  She could feel the tension seeping off her partner.  She wasn’t surprised when Dolan gave the signal, and they moved on the building. 
The place was huge.  And bare.  It took less than twenty minutes to search all the levels and pronounce the place clean. 
Which didn’t surprise Dolan.  He’d known as soon as they entered the side door.  All the dust they kicked up and the vast emptiness of the building.  Nobody’d been in this warehouse for a long time. 
Willis had sold him out.  Fucker.
Despite this, Dolan inspected every room personally, with Tamaki right beside him, hoping for anything that might offer a new path to follow.  But there was nothing. 
In the last room – on the fourth level, a large window looking down on the empty storage area of the ground floor – Dolan lost it.  Standing in the doorway, he watched Tamaki peer into the drawers of the cheap, metal desk in the far corner.  She examined the orphaned papers and office supplies, but it was all worthless shit, and Dolan knew it.  He took a sip of his coffee, dropped the cup onto the floor, and walked over to the desk. 
Tamaki saw him from the corner of her eye.  Even in the dim light, she could see his jaw muscles clenched.  She stepped away from the desk.  Dolan swept around it and grabbed the chair with both hands.  Lifting it above his head, he swung it against the window, the dull clang of thick glass echoing in Tamaki’s ears. 
Below, the officers heard the noise and looked up.  Moments later, a piercing crash prefaced the launch of the chair, arcing out the window four flights to the floor below, where it crumpled into a mass of metal and plastic, skipping across the concrete to land only feet away from the beat officers. 


“Don’t tell me the girls are all busy,” Dolan said.  “It’s been almost a month.” 
“Oh no,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “We take care of Big Detective.  New girl arrive just other day.  When I see, I say, ‘this girl just right for Mr. Dolan’.  You trust me, yes?” 
Dolan grunted. 
“Good,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “Give minute.  I be right back, take you to her.” 
Shortly, Mrs. Fāng led Dolan through the curtains and down the hallway to a door at the very end.  Mrs. Fāng opened it and showed the detective in. 
Dolan had never been to this room before.  The only illumination was a small night-light against one wall.  It cast everything in deep shadow.  Dolan closed his eyes, allowed them to adjust, then scanned the room. 
There was little in the way of furniture – a chair next to the door, bed on the opposite wall, and nothing else, unlike the other rooms that seemed decorated for a Better Homes & Gardens photo shoot.  On the bed was a young woman in a sheer negligee.  Her wrists and ankles were tied to the bedposts and she had a ball-gag in her mouth.  Slim, with small breasts, she writhed like a snake, her pelvis undulating rhythmically to a silent tune.  Something scratched at the back of Dolan’s mind, but he ignored it. 
“She like rough,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “No cum unless she get hard and fast.  See?” 
Dolan said nothing. 
Mrs. Fāng slipped from the room and closed the door. 
Dolan undressed and let his clothes fall to the floor.  He mounted the girl without preamble.  She was already wet (or previously lubricated).  Lust rippled through the detective as he slammed into her – the tension of the Vasquez case urging him on. 
Five minutes later, frustrations spent, Dolan rolled off the girl and worked to catch his breath.  ‘You’re too old to be fucking like a crazy teenager,’ he thought.  Beside him, the girl was silent.  That was expected.  Dolan appreciated the quiet, stared through the dimness at the ceiling, his mind clear for the first time in weeks. 
The click of the door made him sit up.  It was Mrs. Fāng.  Dolan reached down to cover his now-deflated prick. 
“Ah, Detective,” Mrs. Fāng said.  “How do you feel now?”  Her accent was gone, replaced with a slight Brooklyn one.  She stepped over to the bed, unclasped the ball-gag, pulled a damp rag from the girl’s mouth, and tossed it onto Dolan’s lap. 
Confusion masked his rising anxiety.  “What’s going on?” 
Mrs. Fāng laughed.  “Why, Detective.  You’re performing your sworn duty – to serve and protect.”  She ran her fingers through Dolan’s hair, flicked on a switch by the bed that turned on the ceiling light.  The worrying sensation at the back of the detective’s mind started to burn.  He looked down and recognized the woman next to him.  Renee Franco. 
She wasn’t breathing.  A knot twisted in Dolan’s gut, and he thought he’d be sick.  He turned away, tried to wipe the image from his mind. 
Mrs. Fāng leaned down, her lips brushed Dolan’s ear.  “Now you’re mine,” she whispered and put a business card into his hand.  “This is the card I share with my most special clients.” 
Dolan looked at the card – spare, simple, with Asian symbols in one corner and the word ‘Ichiban’ dead center.  It was familiar, but his mind couldn’t focus.   
“It’s a Japanese word, I know.  But we all look alike to you, anyway.  Don’t we, Detective?”  She kissed the top of his head.  “And please, call me Jedna.  All my closest associates do.”
Mrs. Fāng’s laughter rang in Dolan’s ears for long minutes after she exited down the hallway. 


It was a week later when Dolan caught a headline on the city page of the Times – REPORTER STILL MISSING.  Sweat beaded on his forehead and he turned the page quickly, but not before the name jumped out at him.  Renee Franco. 
Bile welled up in the back of his throat as he dropped the paper onto his desk and stood up, launching his chair back ten feet.  It didn’t matter.  Dolan ran from the office for the bathroom. 
Twenty minutes passed.  When Dolan returned to his desk his face was slack and devoid of color, eyes sunk deep in their sockets.  Tamaki watched as her partner sat down and reached into the bottom drawer.  He pulled out a file folder and set it in front of him. 
And stared at it while the rest of the squad worked around him. 
Tamaki brought him a coffee.  Dolan didn’t seem to notice. 
Finally, he picked up the file and tore it in half, then dumped it into the wastebasket beside his desk. 
“What the--”  Words caught in Tamaki’s mouth.
“The Vasquez case,” Dolan said, his voice hardly a whisper.  “That’s a cold case now.  We ain’t solvin’ it.” 
“What are you talking about?  We’ve worked our asses to close that case.  And now, because you say so, we’re just going to let it out to pasture?  No way.  No fucking way.  That is not your call.”  Tamaki reached into the wastebasket and pulled out the torn file.  “I’m going to Wallace.” 
Dolan looked up at her.  She could see he was about to cry.  “Please,” he breathed.  “Please.” 
Tamaki paused, but only for a second, then shook her head.  “No.  Putting us together was a mistake.  I knew that then.  This only confirms it.”  She marched toward the lieutenant’s office. 
Dolan watched her go.  Watched it all go.  Then he stood up.  Slowly.  And walked out of the station house.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Fistful of Toys

Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks 

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, along with fellow dorks, Darren, Lisa, and Bryan, choose to walk a different path, and amended that to “A Fistful…” with their blog and podcast, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  Topics range from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I have regularly pilfered for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

In the Dorks’ latest fistful they offered up their top 5 toys.  Being a film-centric podcast, the choices leaned heavily toward toys utilized in movies, though there were also toys from their childhoods interspersed among the various fistfuls.  It was, no surprise, a great episode, with all dorks on point—great choices, great one-liners, great off-color jokes that kept a smile on my face throughout the whole thing.  Check it out here:   

For my own fistful of toys, though, it’s all about the toys I had as a kid.  This list could easily—like so many reminiscences of my childhood—end up being filled with Star Wars toys, but that wouldn’t be all that fun (maybe I’ll save that for a later Fistful).  Variety is the spice of life (1 point for hoary cliché), and I try, if nothing else, to make these lists interesting.  But, enough preamble, let’s get to it. 

5. Matchbox cars

Matchbox cars hold a special place in my memories.  My first collection (followed by Star Wars, comic books, Tolkien books, Sandman by Gaiman, etc. etc.), it all began when Granddad would take me downtown to Newberry’s or across the river to Hyslop’s (in Canada) to buy me a Matchbox car.  The collection quickly grew, and once he passed away, I didn’t stop, amassing dozens of these little metal cars and trucks, most of which I still have today. 
One of the favorite things to do with my Matchboxes was to play smash-up derby.  My friends would come over, and each of us would choose 20 cars for our respective teams.  The point was to take one car each and, from across the room, whip them toward the center where they would hopefully smash into each other, toppling one or both—the streamlined race cars with front ends low to the ground were good for getting under the other vehicles, but some of the dump trucks were more stable, making them difficult to topple; there was a lot of strategy involved in the choosing of one’s cars.  Whichever vehicle ended up on its side or top, as long as the other car remained on its wheels, went to the other player.  Working through our teams, a winner was declared when the other person lost all their Matchbox cars.  It was a blast!

4. Wild West Fort

This thing was low-tech, and I loved it.  You had to put it all together, clipping the fence pieces in place without busting off the points where they attached, then set out the soldiers and the American Indians—some of which were bow-legged with little nubs on the insides of their ankles so they could sit atop the horses that came with it—and then… attack!  Hours of fun ensued—months’ worth of hours, and it was always magical.  Unless you had one of these (and are old enough not to have so many electronics at your disposal), you are probably looking at this picture and wondering what is wrong with me.  Ah, well, that’s your loss.  Sorry. 

3. Evel Knievel

I was born in ’72.  Evel Knievel was huge in the 70s, and early 80s, a real-life superhero who challenged death and lived to tell about it—launching his rocket cycle across the Snake River Canyon, jumping 13 buses at Wembley Stadium, going fast enough to reach escape velocity of the Earth (that last one…not real, but it was probably something that crossed children’s minds).  I expect I saw Knievel on ABC’s Wide World of Sports (another nostalgic throwback to my youth, which includes features on Muhammad Ali and the Harlem Globetrotters), and like many children, I was enamored.  So, with the advent of the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, I had to have that.  Spinning the big white wheel would rev up the engine, then you’d hit the switch and release Knievel, to race across the floor, or stumble through your backyard.  I’m sure it did not live up to the commercials, but that didn’t matter.  It was still a blast.

2. Six Million Dollar Man

The Six Million Dollar Man was a favorite TV show, and the best Lee Majors television role, period (and, yes, I’m including Fall Guy and Big Valley in the discussion [insert smile emoji]).  So, of course, I wanted to have the doll (*ahem*, I mean action figure).  With bionic limbs and a bionic eye—which you could look through by putting your own eye to the hole in the back of Steve Austin’s skull—this toy was…amazingly simple.  Like all the other toys on this list, it was very low-tech, which meant your imagination had to do the heavy lifting when you were playing.  No problem.  “We have the technology” was the prime directive when running around the back yard with the Six Million Dollar Man. 

1. Death Star

It all comes back to Star Wars.  And the Death Star playset was the pinnacle of all Star Wars toys (one could argue that the U.S.S. Flagg from G.I. Joe may be the mother of all playsets, but I was in that limbo between being a kid buying toys and being an adult buying toys—the point, as a teenager, where one is “too cool” for toys—during the Yo Joe craze and missed out…though I did have a handful of the figures).  With four levels, an elevator that could take you to each floor, a trash compactor (accessed through a trap door in the floor) with “trash” and a dianoga (now we knew what it sort of looked like), the cannon at the top (which popped out of its housing when the rebels stuffed a proton torpedo down the nearest exhaust port), a precipice where Obi-Wan could deactivate the tractor beam, and a retractable bridge that revealed a chasm over which Luke and Leia had to swing, this set had it all.  Simply add action figures, preferably Star Wars but any roughly 4-inch figures would suffice, and you had a wealth of fun possibilities before you.  The Death Star—the best Star Wars toy they made. 
And, for bonus points, if you lived in Canada—or right on the border, as my best friend and I did—you could get the Canadian version of the Death Star, a completely different setup that offered just as much fun.  Check it out below. 

So, the top 5 toys of my youth.  There are plenty of others deserving of honorable mentions.  But I think I’ll share that in a different post, soonish.  Now, what are yours?  Drop them into the comments and tell me why I might be wrong, or maybe not as right as I believed.  And thanks for reading.